By Brian P. Ellis – http://brianpellis.blogspot.com/2012/05/libertarian-socialist-critique-of.html
The word “libertarian” is becoming an increasingly popular descriptor of political ideology in the US, though many in the US incorrectly associate libertarianism only with the capitalist Libertarian Party. Historically libertarianism was a term used most commonly by anti-authoritarian socialists to describe their political philosophy. In fact, in most countries the term is typically associated with socialism, not capitalism. Libertarian socialists have consistently argued that liberty and capitalism cannot coexist; so the rightful use of the term by capitalists is hotly contested by libertarian socialists.
The term libertarian dates back to the 18th century where it was used in philosophy to denote those who believed in free will rather than some form of determinism. Later, in the 19th century, the term started to be used in a political context by socialists who advocated a democratically self-managed type of non-state socialism; first appearing in the anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque’s De l’être-humain mâle et femelle – Lettre à P.J. Proudhon. Libertarian socialists used the term libertarian to differentiate their views, which emphasized the importance of individual liberty, advocated the elimination of unjustified hierarchy, capitalism, and the state, from those socialists which advocated the need for a state (hierarchical government composed of professional politicians and bureaucrats, and backed up by a police force and an a standing army). (Note: some libertarian socialists also used the labels: libertarian communist, social anarchist or socialist anarchist, anarcho-communist or just plain old “anarchist.”)
It wasn’t until the 1950s, at the earliest, that the term libertarian started to be used by capitalists, who previously referred to themselves as classical liberals or market liberals. The term wasn’t popularized by the political right (capitalists) until the early 1970s when the US Libertarian Party was formed. Libertarian socialists have always considered this an insulting co-optation of the term, as capitalism, along with the state, should rightly be seen as the principal enemies of liberty. Capitalism, being an inherently hierarchical system in which wealth is disproportionately distributed to those who own capital in the form of a means of production or other type of workplace, cannot be reconciled with libertarianism as it was known in its original sense (before the mid 20th century): a system of society in which inequality and unjustified hierarchy is abolished. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority ruling class, which is typical in any capitalist society — libertarian or not — allows for concentrations of political power, and therefore, plutocratic tyranny and hierarchy.
Capitalism and the State
In modern, liberal democratic capitalist society (think the developed societies of the world) the state is used as a tool to maintain class-divided society. These societies use the term “democracy” to give the impression that the working class (those that sell their labor in return for a wage or salary – what the Occupy Movement would call the 99%) exercises control over the political and economic system, when in reality these spheres are almost entirely controlled by a ruling class (those that earn their living by employing others to work for them – the 1%). In order to maintain a shred of democratic legitimacy, and avoid widespread revolt, the ruling class must occasionally make concessions to the working class. The working class has used this one vulnerability to win many protections from the state – like a minimum wage; weekends; benefits; a ban on child labor; an 8 hour day (as opposed to a 12-16 hour day, which was the norm); social safety nets like welfare, unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.
Capitalist libertarians wish to drastically limit the scope of government, extracting it entirely from the economic sphere, which would effectively repeal all of these hard-won working class victories, leaving millions of people to die on the streets. On this issue many libertarian capitalists share the view of early Libertarian Party member and poltician, Ron Paul: that churches and private charities would pick up the slack left by government. Any person who has done any research into the history of poverty in the US would be able to point out the error in this logic: before government social safety nets were put into place churches and charity groups were continually overwhelmed by homeless and impoverished people and did not have the resources to keep up. Even today churches and charity groups cannot keep up with all of the people that slip through the holes of our shrinking social safety nets. Additionally, churches, which Paul usually emphasizes the importance of, do not have a great record for taking care of non-believers and those they consider to be “sinners”, like the LGBTQ community.*One might think that the reduction of state power libertarian capitalists envision might create conditions hospitable to working class revolution, but according to libertarian capitalist (or anarcho-capitalist) theory employers would hire “private defense armies” (PDAs) to defend private property by battling workers’ unions, thus preventing workers from fighting for better workplace conditions and remuneration and from revolutionary uprising. Also, most so-called libertarian capitalists are actually minarchists, that is, they agree that some degree of external government (some remnant of the state) must exist to maintain an army and police force – no doubt to protect capitalists from the working people they exploit and which vastly outnumber them.
*For a few examples of church discrimination see:
This one is more anecdotal but poignant: http://thehomelessguy.blogspot.com/2011/09/church-myth.html
Any discussion of direct democracy is conspicuously absent from libertarian capitalist theory because they seem to prefer the rule of “elites”, which the all-wise, mostly slave-owning American “founding fathers” advocated. In his December 27th 2004 “Texas Straight Talk” column, libertarian capitalist politician Ron Paul stated:
“…our country is not a democracy. Our nation was founded as a constitutionally limited republic, as any grammar school child knew just a few decades ago. Remember the Pledge of Allegiance: ‘and to the Republic for which it stands’? The Founding Fathers were concerned with liberty, not democracy. In fact, the word democracy does not appear in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. On the contrary, Article IV, section 4 of the Constitution is quite clear: ‘The United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union a Republican Form of Government’ (emphasis added by Paul).”
He continues, “Democracy, we are told, is always good. But the founders created a constitutionally limited republic precisely to protect fundamental liberties from the whims of the masses, to guard against the excesses of democracy. The electoral college likewise was created in the Constitution to guard against majority tyranny in federal elections. The President was to be elected by the states rather than the citizenry as a whole, with votes apportioned to states according to their representation in Congress.”1
When Paul says the US is not a democracy he is absolutely right. Despite all of the inflated rhetoric politicians like to spew about democratic ideals and freedom, the US was never meant to be a peoples’ democracy; it was designed to be a type of aristocracy ruled by white, wealthy (or propertied) males, and it was explicitly so for a very long time (and it continues to be in many ways). Libertarian capitalists see no real problem with this and tend to side with Alexander Hamilton and the rest of the old white aristocrats who formed the original US government in viewing the masses as a “great beast” to be controlled and trained. It should be no surprise to anyone then, that this country has always been run in the interest of the wealthy; working people are viewed as mere commodities by elites, “human resources” to be utilized like any other resource, as a means to an end – profit. The only say these lowly wage slaves are to have is in picking a leader every few years to make decisions for them, and even this cannot be completely trusted to them – the powers that be make sure that no one without vast sums of money, and a loyalty to the ruling class, can stand a chance in a political campaign.
As a side note, it is interesting that in the above paragraphs Paul also glosses over the true nature of the electoral college –- a system he defends despite the fact that, for over 60 years, most Americans have held the view that the electoral college should be done away with so that the president can be elected by direct popular vote.5,6 The electoral college was instituted more so as a concession to the slave-holding South than it was a way “to guard against the excesses of democracy.” Rather than a popular election, which would have placed the South at a political disadvantage, being less populous in enfranchised persons (white males), Southerners wanted an electoral college system where their slaves (which, bear in mind, could not vote) counted toward their states population, and as a consequence their state’s political power, i.e., their representation in the electoral college. The Northern politicians, who were, for the most part, somewhat uneasy about slavery, though by no means hard-core abolitionists, displayed their relative indifference on the issue by creating an electoral college system where, as a compromise, slaves could be treated as 3/5 of a person in the “Three-Fifths Compromise.” The creation of the electoral college system ensured that the South would maintain substantial political power which they could use to defend the institution of slavery, which was the basis of their economy.
As he continues on in his pro-electoral college rant, Paul further displays his muddled “libertarianism” by evoking the bogey man of the power-hungry statist liberal – undoubtedly a Bolshevik in disguise – who is out to take away property rights and guns, rather than addressing the elephant in the room – the stupidity of a system in which a president and other politicians hold power like monarchs over a federation of states and a population. What is bizarre about proponents of libertarian capitalism is that they do not critique the idea of professional politicians and bureaucrats at all. Libertarian socialists find a system in which politicians run on a platform and are then selected via multiple choice to be absurd, and instead promote actual democracy, where representation, when necessary, is implemented through a system of instantly re-callable (impeachable) delegates whose duty is to represent the democratic decisions of the bodies which select (or elect) them.
When defending aristocratic rule libertarian capitalists like to bring up the supposed need to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority; as capitalists that see no real problem with the pursuit of profit, the minority they are concerned with is fairly obvious – the ruling class, i.e., the 1% — those who make their enormous sums of wealth by exploiting the labor of others (in Marxist terms the ruling class, aka the employing class, who make their profits by extracting surplus value, i.e. paying workers less than the actual value of their mental or physical labor). Libertarian socialists couldn’t differ more from libertarian capitalists in regards to how society should be managed. Libertarian capitalists subscribe to the fallacious belief in the ability of the market to regulate itself and the ability of elites to run society in the best interest of all; libertarian socialists, on the other hand, advocate a cooperative economy managed by workers syndicates and community councils, and believe that the people themselves should manage their communities through direct democracy and the election of recallable delegates. Libertarian socialists, who have always recognized and stressed the importance of individual liberty, understand that individual liberty is best protected when all have a say in the management of their community, and furthermore believe that individual liberty should be bolstered by codified human rights principles (much like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the US Bill of Rights and the rest of the amendments to the US Constitution).
Libertarian Capitalist Economy vs. Libertarian Socialist Economy
Libertarian socialists have very little in common with libertarian capitalists since, as stated previously, most libertarian capitalists do not actually desire the complete abolition of the state. Though both libertarian socialists and capitalists talk about abolishing the state the key difference is that libertarian socialists not only want to do away with the state but the capitalist system as well. Instead of private property (factories, hospitals, other infrastructure, and miscellaneous workplaces/productive equipment, etc. Not to be confused with personal property – homes, toothbrushes, clothing, computers, etc., which would be owned by individuals) being owned by capitalists, private property would be converted to communally owned and controlled infrastructure; workplaces would be democratically managed by the workers in cooperation with those living in the community. In place of buying and selling in a market, all would have free access to what was available (perhaps after a transitional stage where labor notes are issued for the time an individual has spent working – which are different than money in that they do not circulate – and then used to obtain non-essential goods or services that may be scarce).
Libertarian socialist society would eliminate work deemed difficult, dangerous, or tedious through automation or simply through sacrifice of unnecessary goods (of which there are plenty in capitalism). In addition, work would not be coerced and the jobs which were only necessary to maintain capitalist functionality would be eliminated (banking, investment, accounting, etc.; not to mention the standing army). The amount of work necessary to keep society functioning would be reduced drastically due to the resultant expansion of the labor force and the abandonment of the profit motive. After the dissolution of capitalist production for profit rational production for human need would be instituted and environmentally destructive technologies, that continue to exist merely because they are profitable and heavily invested in, would be abandoned in favor of safer, sustainable technologies.
The type of society libertarian socialists envision is much different than the type of society libertarian capitalists hope for – which would likely resemble early industrial capitalism, where there was little regulation, and employers exploited workers with impunity. For example, in 1900, before the US labor movement won significant workplace safety regulations, nearly three hundred out of every one hundred thousand miners were killed on the job annually. Today, although mining is still a dangerous occupation, the annual mortality rate for miners on the job is nine deaths for every one hundred thousand workers.4 This is largely thanks to hard-won reforms like OSHA that organized workers have struggled to obtain. The working class is exploited by capitalism whether it is regulated or not, but workers would suffer even more under a libertarian capitalist system. Liberty can only be achieved when all people are free to realize the life they want to live, free from coercion and privation; a society in which one is forced to sell themselves as a commodity, as is the case under capitalism, is a society which is antithetical to the concept of liberty. The realization of liberty comes from both individual liberty — guaranteed through codified protections for individuals — and from social liberty — the achievement of social equality that can only exist in a directly democratic, libertarian and socialist society, as in, having an equal say in public policy decisions, equal access to that which is necessary to live and be happy. The libertarian capitalist notion of liberty is a sham; their vision of “liberty” is one in which there could still be a boss in every workplace, in every family, and in which the dictates of the professional politicians and bureaucrats, that make up the state government, would trump the will of the people. This vision is no more libertarian that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea is democratic. There exists no substantial critique of unjustified hierarchy in libertarian capitalist philosophy, for such a critique would contradict capitalism completely.
More on Ron Paul
Ron Paul is an American politician known for his libertarian capitalist views, which are often incorrectly described simply as libertarian views by the US mainstream media. He has attracted popular support from some uninformed and naïve sections of the American left and the pro-pot legalization counter-culture. (These individuals tend to be unaware of his ethically repulsive views or choose to ignore them. Many are also unaware of libertarian socialism and the fact that libertarian socialists also oppose imperialism/interventionism, the drug war and the persecution of drug users). He was a candidate for President of the United States in 1988 on the Libertarian Party ticket and in 2008 as a Republican; he is also an unlikely candidate for party nomination in the 2012 US Presidential election.
Ron Paul is probably the most well known libertarian capitalist politician and has frequently worked with, and identifies with, the US Libertarian Party (he is registered for as a Republican for mostly tactical reasons but has described himself as “a libertarian at heart”). He is also known, to a lesser extent by the general public, for his socially conservative, theocratic, homophobic, racist, and bizarre fringe views.
Paul’s newsletters published in the 1980s and ‘90s were filled with racist and homophobic rants. A simple internet search will pull up numerous examples. Paul initially defended these statements, but later disavowed them, claiming he did not write them and did not know what was being published in his newsletters. At best he is highly irresponsible for not monitoring the garbage that was written in his name; at worst he is a hate monger, whose calls for “state’s rights” should be interpreted as the right to legislate discrimination. (Historically, “state’s rights” was a slogan used by the American Confederate States – the Southern states that did not want a federal government telling them they couldn’t keep humans as property – and like most libertarian capitalists Paul’s use of the term libertarian is actually code for neo-confederalism and legalized discrimination. Many neo-confederate supporters of Paul long for the day they can impose segregation and discrimination like in the good ol’ days.) For more on this see:
In 2004, the House of Representatives put forward a resolution to recognize and honor the 40th anniversary of the congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paul cast the lone “no” vote. He claimed that Civil Rights Act violated liberty by undermining the ability of private property owners to make their own choices. Again, what he is essentially stating is that owners of business should be free to discriminate against whomever they choose. The Civil Rights Act repealed the notorious Jim Crow laws which enforced segregation and regarded blacks as subhuman.
Further evidence of Paul’s contempt for the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders appears in this quote from his February 1990 Newsletter: “Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer, Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a Congressmen. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan approved it! We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day!” see: http://www.tnr.com/sites/default/files/February1990.pdf
Unlike many libertarians, who view the anti-reproductive rights movement as theocratic tyranny, Paul opposes abortion and has labeled himself “strongly pro-life.” He believes abortion laws should be legislated at the state level, but he has hypocritically introduced and supported federal legislation to outlaw abortion rights.5
While libertarian socialism has a strong history of anti-fascism and anti-racism, and libertarian socialists believe in society founded on the importance of human rights, Paul and other libertarian capitalists believe property owners and states should be allowed to discriminate at will. In regards to anti-LGBTQ laws he stated: “Consider the Lawrence case decided by the Supreme Court in June. The Court determined that Texas had no right to establish its own standards for private sexual conduct, because gay sodomy is somehow protected under the 14th amendment ‘right to privacy’. Ridiculous as sodomy laws may be, there clearly is no right to privacy nor sodomy found anywhere in the Constitution. There are, however, states’ rights – rights plainly affirmed in the Ninth and Tenth amendments. Under those amendments, the State of Texas has the right to decide for itself how to regulate social matters like sex, using its own local standards.” 6
While he concedes that sodomy laws (laws aimed at prohibiting homosexual sex) are “ridiculous”, he still believes states should be allowed to criminalize people because of their sexuality, due to an illogical belief in the inerrancy of the US Constitution.
If all of that baggage was not enough, it appears that Paul has close ties to the lunatic John Birch Society, which called the fluoridation of water a “Communist conspiracy” (No joke! That wasn’t just the opinion of the insane general in Dr. Strangelove) and has the support of a great deal of white supremacists, anti-Semites and other assorted bigots:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-reinbach/president-ron-paul-ron-pa_b_890037.html – John Birch Society ties.
Illustrating his privilege and how out of touch he is with the realities of working class existence, Paul trivialized the sexual harassment that many workers face in his book Freedom Under Siege:
“Employee rights are said to be valid when employers pressure employees into sexual activity. Why don’t they quit once the so-called harassment starts? Obviously the morals of the harasser cannot be defended, but how can the harassee escape some responsibility for the problem? Seeking protection under civil rights legislation is hardly acceptable. If force was clearly used, that is another story…”
As if all workers can just easily pick up and find another job.
And in this video he calls unions “unconstitutional”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiLhe5-tmOQ
Paul argues that doctors and hospitals should not be required to treat emergency patients who are uninsured or unable to pay. He also believes insurance companies should have the right to refuse to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. He makes this clear in his book Liberty Defined: “once insurance companies are required by government to insure against preconditions, it’s no longer insurance – it’s a social welfare mandate and will result in bankrupting the insurance companies, or they will be bailed out by a government subsidy, further bankrupting the government. So far no one has mandated insurance companies sell fire insurance to a person whose house is on fire.” During a 2011 presidential debate Ron Paul again emphasized that those who cannot afford care should not be guaranteed treatment and coverage by the government. Once again he argued that charities should fill the void, not the government. These controversial statements ended up causing quite a stir when it was revealed that Paul’s friend and 2008 presidential campaign chair, Kent Snyder, was denied coverage for acute viral pneumonia. After 2 months of hospitalization Snyder accumulated $400,000 in medical bills and unfortunately died of his illness. His family appealed to friends and family – many in Paul’s network of contributors – but were only able to raise $50,000. The family had to assume the rest of the bills. This sad story is a case in point of why Paul’s ideas are wrong. See:
Paul has proposed ending government programs like Medicare, that millions depend on. He proposes nothing as an alternative, instead stating the issue should be left to the states. See:
In 2009, Paul called global warming “a hoax”, during an interview on Fox Business: “You know, the greatest hoax I think that has been around in many, many years if not hundreds of years has been this hoax on the environment and global warming.” Paul holds this view despite the scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, and is due to human activity.7
See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCc5Gk1nops – skip to 7:00
As further evidence of the unsoundness of his thinking and worldview see this video where he states that he does not accept the scientifically proven theory, and fact of evolution (a scientific theory is supported by empirical facts, and should not be confused with the colloquial use of the term “theory”) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPoCsC8VT9g&feature=player_embedded
U.S. Department of Commerce, Historical Statistics, Series 1029-1036